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24 June 2010 @ 07:15 pm
Eastern Red Damsels  

On Sunday I met up with Chris Lewis, Bob Bracken and a few others for a morning of birding and dragonhunting. We stopped by the marsh near Corkstown and Moodie, a place I had never been but was interested in exploring. We found some great birds, including a Willow Flycatcher (seen low in the marsh; it was identified by its chip note rather than its song), a couple of Marsh Wrens singing from the dense cattails, two Green Herons flying over (my first ones of the year), a Virginia Rail calling, an adult Black-crowned Night-heron which flew out of the vegetation right in front of us, and a beautiful male Indigo Bunting singing from the treetops. The bunting was also a year bird for me, and is one of my favourites with its deep blue plumage. There were also plenty of Tree and Barn Swallows flying around, and in the large grassy field by the parking area I added Savannah Sparrow and Bobolink to the day's list.

Eastern Red Damsel

As the day was gray and cloudy, there weren't too many odonates flying. I found a Fragile Forktail and this Taiga Bluet, another damselfly with a distinctive enough pattern to be able to identify it without examining the claspers.

Taiga Bluet

After leaving the marsh we headed west to Carleton Place to follow up a report of two Trumpeter Swans that had been seen with two young on the Jock River. This was quite possibly the first breeding record of the Trumpeter Swan in the Ottawa Circle, and we were eager to see the young cygnets for ourselves. However, it was not to be; the marshy area of the river where they had been spending their time was deserted.

Chris, Bob and I decided to end the morning with a trip to the Bruce Pit for some dragon hunting. A remarkable number of odonates (23 damselflies and 25 dragonflies) have been found in this small area over the years, including many unusual and rare species. Some of the uncommon species documented at the Bruce Pit include Spotted Spreadwing, Amber-winged Spreadwing, Azure Bluet, Orange Bluet, Calico Pennant, Wandering Glider and Black Meadowhawk. Last year, I was with Chris when an Ebony Jewelwing was seen at Bruce Pit for the first time and added to the list...although not an uncommon species in the region, it prefers a much different habitat.

With such an amazing variety of species, it is no wonder that the Bruce Pit is a favourite place to search for dragonflies. As if it knew we were coming, this male Common Whitetail greeted us at the fence at the edge of the parking lot.

Common Whitetail

The Bruce Pit is the only place in the Ottawa region that I personally know of where the Eastern Red Damsel can be found, and this was one of our target species. Last year Chris and I searched the edges of the southern shore and came up with only two. I had a feeling that we might see more this time when we found our first one in the grass at the top of the hill just where the fence ends! We proceeded to the bottom of the hill and the seepage area at the end of the path, where we found a few more flying together in tandem. Chris, Bob and I spread out and we all began seeing the red damsels, flying low and slow among the vegetation. More often than not, pairs were flying in tandem.

Eastern Red Damsels

Eastern Red Damsels prefer seepage areas, which are characteristic of the Bruce Pit, but are also associated with fens and spring-fed pools and ditches. Highly localized, many individuals may cluster together within an area of only a few square metres...which definitely seemed to be the case that day. These damselflies are tiny, and despite their vivid color, they are often overlooked because of their small size and their tendency to hide in thick vegetation.

Eastern Red Damsels

Chris and Bob said that they have never seen so many Eastern Red Damsels all at once. I had fun wading around in the water looking for mating pairs and trying to photograph them.

Eastern Red Damsels

There were other odonates present too, of course, including my first Marsh Bluet, Slender Spreadwing and Amber-winged Spreadwing of the year. As with many blue-type bluets, the Marsh Bluet is best identified by close examination of the shape of the claspers. The spreadwings are easier to identify, as many don't require a lens for magnification. Slender Spreadwings have wings about half the length of their abdomen, the shortest of any local spreadwing species; they also have a thin, cream-coloured edge at the end of each of wing. The Amber-winged Spreadwing is a very large and robust species, and has a yellowish tinge to the wings. With some individuals it is easier to see the amber-coloured wings in the hand.

Amber-winged Spreadwing

There were many bluets toward the southeastern end of the pond. Chris found a Boreal Bluet; this was a species we had seen here last year, although one that I didn't get a picture of. When she let it go after examining and identifying it, the bluet landed in the grass close by and I was able to photograph it "in the wild".

Boreal Bluet

We didn't see very many butterflies; there are still plenty of Red Admirals around in the Ottawa area, and we saw one fly over the parking lot. A Northern Pearly-eye in the trees at the edge of the pit was more cooperative. This was the first one I'd seen this year.

Northern Pearly-eye

As we had alreay been out birding for the full morning, we didn't spend very long at Bruce Pit. I really enjoyed our time hunting for dragonflies at the Bruce Pit, and I'll definitely have to go back and spend some more time exploring the other areas of the shoreline.